When I was about 8, I came home from school and complained to my mom about some of the kids who were teasing me. I’d just started a new school where I barely knew anyone, and I felt isolated and alone. My mother listened to me for a moment, and gave me two pieces of Mom-Wisdom that hit me at my core, because when you are 8 and your mom tells you something, She Must Be Right. She’s Mom. She’s a superhero. Listen closely to her Mom-Wisdom.
The first: Sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you. The second: If others are teasing you, it’s because you don’t do enough to get along and you are being braggy and too big for your britches. I listened to her and I agreed. Sticks and stones can hurt, but names don’t really hurt, so I get that. I realize now, having survived four years of hazing and teasing at an all-girls’ prep school, that names hurt like hell. Names like “bitch,” “know-it-all,” “big head,” and my family’s favorite nickname for me – “Thunder Thighs.” I’m not joking on that last one. More on that another time.
It was the second bit of advice that I heard and absorbed but didn’t really realize it until recently. It didn’t occur to me until T (bright and yet scary woman that she is) asked me if I ever thought that my ED was my way of being small. And I started to cry (side note – I hate crying, I really hate crying in front of anyone, and I especially hate crying in therapy). I am too loud – I laugh too loud, and my voice gets loud when I’m excited about things, so I keep my voice professional and even. I’m too intense – I like being smart and learning really random bits of trivia and then using them in everyday life because I think life is so cool and I just want to burst especially when I meet other people who like to think. I’m too big – I overstep my bounds, I say things I shouldn’t, I often don’t notice that others are uncomfortable around me or that I’m pissing people off. I am just too much. Too me. Too difficult. Too pathetic, stupid, foolish, blind, idiotic, fat, lazy, careless, ugly.
My mother was a good woman who died young and never intended for me to take this all literally. Maybe it’s because I’m too literal! – I don’t know but I don’t blame her. All I do know is that from very early on I was told that who I was was not someone people liked. That to be liked, I had to change everything about me, from what I said, to how I said it, to how I listened, to what I wore, to who I was. And when I stopped being Sarah, I started to become something else, and I lost who I really am. No wonder I want to be painfully thin. No wonder I want to be silently quiet. No wonder I want to be tiny and shrivel away. What I can’t starve away, I will purge and cut away, cut in pieces and bleed away, shred and tear and rip away. I will take all of the things about myself that others don’t like, all of the pieces I hate and I will just tear them out of me so I can be someone else – someone shiny and happy and new and beautiful and smart and perfect, but not too smart, too happy, too shiny, too perfect. Because if you are too much, people won’t like you.